Adrian Tierney-Jones on Adnams Southwold Bitter

Adnams Southwold Bitter

English Bitter
4.1%, 3.7% in cask
First Brewed
Malt Varieties
English pale ale malt, crystal malt
Hop Varieties
Fuggles and Goldings
Adnams in-house yeast
Pair with Cod and chips with minted peas, preferably with North sea waves crashing in the background
Adrian Tierney-Jones on Adnams Southwold Bitter

G imme a Trappist beer, glittering and serene in its chalice of a glass; gimme a Brut IPA (yes, you read that right), as dry as an English summer drought, but chiming with its own sense of elegance; gimme a burnished glass of Bavarian Märzen, autumnal and brooding, I’ll pass on the pretzel.

Gimme, more than anything, though, especially when the pub doors are open and the wind from the east cuts in off the North Sea with the stiletto-sharpness of a Renaissance assassin, a pint, and always a pint, of Adnams Southwold Bitter.

Muscular in its nature, whose earthy and scented orange hop characters are counter pointed by a rich and urgent biscuity maltiness before its dry, bitter finish, this is a grandee of a beer that first saw the light of day in November 1960, but which I didn’t drink for at least another 29 years.

Hold on, never mind the history, drink up for I want another gulp, another glass, another pint. This is sometimes what beers that you have loved and lost and found again do to you.

I first drank deeply of this most benevolent and beautiful expression of an English bitter in the late 1980s, on what a couple of mates and I laughingly called a beer study weekend in Southwold, home then and now to Adnams Best Bitter, as it was known at the time. (Funnily enough, even as I write I have just remembered beer-loving friends raving about it in college a few years prior, as I rolled my lager-dimpled eyes at them.)

On this trip, notes were not taken, just glasses filled and refilled as the three of us, up from the Smoke (as we didn’t really say), studied it with the devotion of pilgrims, spoke of it with relish and kept drinking it. Relatively new to cask, this was the beer that anchored me into the position of how good cask-conditioned beer could be.

It was a beer that went on to be by my side on numerous trips to Southwold and Suffolk (as well as in London), but I always wanted to drink it in Southwold, especially when the very air of this quaint seaside town was suffused with the smell of brewing day, rich, malt-drenched and tea-like.  

One day in the spring of 2000, during a family holiday in Southwold, I sat on a bench outside the Red Lion, a glass in front of me, notebook on the table – I’d started making notes several years before – thinking about the sublimities of the beer, while my then two-year-old son snoozed in his pushchair.

Adnams head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald and Adrian Tierney-Jones

Later, on that same holiday, I drank the beer in the Adnams tasting cellar with then head brewer Mike Powell-Evans, someone who helped me a lot with the intricacies of malt and hops as I was struggling to write about this thing called beer. However, one of the most memorable places where it spoke to me with the fluency of T.S. Eliot was in the Suffolk village of Laxfield, one of those pretty places with thatched cottages and an ancient church tower below which generations of villagers now lie silent. Five minutes to six it was, on a Friday afternoon, and the village seemed empty as we parked outside the King’s Head.

As the church clock struck 6:00, people materialized out of nowhere, all making a beeline for the ancient pub, some at a slightly unseemly jog. You could probably set your watch by them. Once inside this venerable thatched inn, also known as the Low House (a reference to its low-lying position as opposed to any slight on the clientele), you could understand the magnetic pull of opening time especially as Adnams Best Bitter was served straight from the cask.

This is a beer that I identify with a place, Suffolk. I see it in London, sometimes in Bristol or Exeter, and I drink it, but for me it’s a beer with a place, Suffolk and especially Southwold, the latter the place where I first really understood the subtle nature and boisterous boost of a bitter, as the East wind blew and waves raked themselves back off the shingle and the pint glass of amber bitter gleamed like a ship far out at sea.

Adrian Tierney-Jones is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes about beer, travel, food and bars/pubs, with work appearing in the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian amongst many others. He has been writing books since 2002 and has edited three editions of the best-selling 1001 Beers To Try Before You Die. He was the British Beer Writer of the Year 2017.

Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.

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